NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — President Barack Obama was in New York Tuesday evening, attending a fundraiser for gay donors and two other events.
To a raucous embrace, Obama told the LGBT donors Tuesday that American society and its laws have advanced the cause of gay rights over the past 10 years but said the job was hardly over in the United States and especially abroad.
He received a loud standing ovation when he declared that he had directed the White House to prepare an executive order barring discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The White House announced the initiative Monday, a long-sought measure in the gay community that Obama initially had resisted.
“It’s not just laws that are changing, it’s hearts and minds,” he said before 550 supporters at a Democratic National Committee fundraising dinner for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender donors.
Obama was introduced at the event by Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in a lawsuit that led to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act last year.
Windsor, 85, sued the federal government after she was forced to pay $363,000 in estate taxes when her partner of 44 years, Thea Spyer, died in 2009 because DOMA didn’t recognize their marriage even though the state of New York did. She would have paid nothing in inheritance taxes if she had been married to a man.
Obama was courting high-dollar Democratic contributors in New York, also headlining an event for a super PAC like the ones he once decried and appearing with about 30 donors who paid up to $32,400 to dine at the home of Vogue editor Anna Wintour.
Obama’s attendance at the three fundraisers underscores his popularity as a draw for big donors and his utility in an election year building up the treasuries of the Democratic Party. Earlier Tuesday, Obama was in Pittsburgh promoting his economic policies and drawing contrasts with congressional Republicans, another midterm presidential task aimed at helping Democrats.
The dinner and the fundraiser for the Senate Majority PAC were closed to the media. The news media was permitted to cover Obama’s remarks to the Democratic National Committee’s gala for gala lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender donors, the centerpiece event of the evening.
The dinner at Gotham Hall, 1356 Broadway, came on the same day that the Senate approved two openly gay Obama nominees for federal judgeships.
The president got a rousing reception at the gala for gay donors in response to his directive for an anti-discrimination executive order, even if it only applies to federal contractors.
Obama lacks authority to extend that protection to all Americans, but the order being drafted by the White House would affect about 14 million workers whose employers or states currently do not prohibit workplace discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. The scope of the measure was tabulated by the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School, which studies sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy.
Obama had resisted signing the order in hopes Congress would pass a broader non-discrimination measure that would apply to nearly all employers. While the Democratic-controlled Senate passed the legislation last year, the measure has languished in the Republican-led House and there is little sign that lawmakers will take it up in an election year.
He urged supporters to keep pressure on Congress, noting that there are more states that allow same-sex marriage than have laws specifically protecting gays against workplace discrimination. And he said Americans should not forget strong anti-gay sentiments in some countries abroad.
“We can’t stop. We have to keep fighting, we have to keep fighting for the human rights of people around the world,” he said.
Officials with the Senate Majority PAC declined to provide details about the number of donors or the amounts contributed.
Obama had once vigorously objected to political groups like the Senate Majority PAC that can take unlimited donations. Once primarily conduits for Republican or conservative big money, such super PACs have now been embraced by liberals and Democrats. Obama’s appearance caps what has been a gradual acceptance of such groups.
In addition to the Senate Majority PAC, Obama has committed to attend in events for the House Majority PAC, which works to elect Democrats to the House. The super PAC announced Tuesday that Obama will travel to New York to attend a fundraiser for the group on July 17 and will also headline a San Francisco fundraiser on July 23.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that while Obama participates in super PAC events, he does not actively solicit money for the groups.
Tuesday was a major travel day for Obama, who earlier traveled to Pittsburgh to visit a workshop designed to give entrepreneurs, inventors and creators the space and the tools to design and build their prototypes.
The Pittsburgh visit to TechShop, a chain of community-based workshops, is part of Obama’s renewed emphasis on how to create jobs and improve wages. During the next several weeks Obama is looking to cut through the current foreign policy flare-ups with an emphasis on working families, manufacturing, wages and the need for greater spending on infrastructure projects.
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